Jupiter Center in Plano Condemned

$60,000 Cleanup Planned

by April M. Washington

Days after more than 300 preschoolers were moved to an east Plano church, air-quality tests revealed dangerous levels of black mold at the Jupiter Center, according to a report.

The Plano Independent School District has launched a major cleanup of the building at 2450 Jupiter Road, a procedure that may cost as much as $60,000, school district officials said Friday. Although the building is leased, the contract requires the district to cover the costs of repairs.

"The building is condemned. Stachybotrys, now known as black mold, was found and had gone airborne," said Annabell Johnson, director of safety for the Plano school district. "All molds can be a problem and toxic in high concentrations. Tests found the building contained significant levels of Stachybotrys. The building will remain closed until we go through the building and remove everything that's been contaminated."

Risk Discovered

A report issued Friday concluded that the airborne levels of mold measured in the Jupiter Center could present a risk to occupants with compromised immune systems. Significant levels of black mold were found in the storage room, four classrooms, a hallway and a playroom. The preschool program for children with disabilities was moved after rains raised concerns about the growth of mold and fungus in the building. Students resumed school Tuesday at First Methodist Church on 18th Street in downtown Plano. Many of the school's staff and faculty members had complained of upper respiratory infections, one of the symptoms caused by black mold, Ms. Johnson said. Officials said mold spores were spread throughout the building by workers using industrial fans to dry water-damaged carpet. "When you take off mold, you want to do it in containment like you do asbestos so you don't disturb the spores so they don't become airborne and people can't breathe them," Ms. Johnson said. "The fact the fans blew it everywhere told me that probably the spores had been spread. Before we got the test results, I told staff to look for another location."

Students Moved

More than 300 students will attend classes at First Methodist Church until the repairs are complete. Repairs to the center at 2450 Jupiter Road will include cleaning the air-conditioning system and replacing carpet, ceiling tiles and drywall infested with mold spores, said Robert Sands, executive director of facilities services for the school district. The discovery of black mold marks the fourth sick-building scare reported in Plano in recent weeks. The city's animal shelter, another school and a local hospital have dealt with similar problems recently. And Plano is not alone. In the last year, mold that can cause respiratory problems has been found in a least seven buildings in North Texas.

Last week, the Plano Animal Shelter was evacuated and closed because of a recurring infestation of black mold that was blamed for flu-like symptoms among shelter employees.

Presbyterian Hospital of Plano received an air-quality report last weekend that confirmed that there wre low levels of fungus growth in the facility's medical-records department. The hospital treated 28 employees for headaches but could not say whether those symptoms were related to the fungus growth.

The Plano school district conducted air-quality tests at Hedgcoxe Elementary, citing concerns from parents about the potential presence of dangerous mold and fungus.

On Thursday, the Texas Health Department tested Hedgcoxe Elementary School's air quality. Heavy rains had caused severe leaks and invited the moisture that can cause mold and fungus.

Ken McBride, an environmental hygienist with the state Health Department, said that preliminary findings found no mold or fungus degrading the school's air quality but that some changes are needed to prevent future problmes. The state Health Department will recommend that the school district improve Hedgcoxe's ventilation system to enhance the flow of clean, fresh air. Other recommendations include replacing the school's roof and carpets with tile flooring to prevent mold and fungus from growing.